INTRO: We have explored together  Four of the signs – The marriage Feast of Cana (sign of the Covenant relationship with God); the Healing of the Royal Official’s son (the power of the Word that Jesus is Who brings new life and Healing into the world); the healing of the lame man by the Pool (Baptism transforms our lives as we are recreated in Christ); the Feeding of the 5000 (Word and Eucharist – Bread of Life for the world). Now today we address one further sign – the Healing of the man born blind. Tomorrow we will explore the Sixth Sign the Raising of Lazarus. There is also a possible seventh sign – the Washing of the Feet at the Last Supper. 

[1] John ch 7 & 8 has Jesus once more in Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles. This was the greatest of the Pilgrimage Feasts, originally an agricultural ‘Feast of the Ingathering of the Harvest’ – as the final harvest is completed and there is joy and thanksgiving for the providence of God. Because the farming families and workers would erect huts of tents in the fields to be harvested (to rest from the blazing heat), it became associated with the nomadic journey of their Hebrew slave forebears on the epoch-making 40 years in the wilderness journeying into the freedom of the Land of Promise. While during those 40 years they constantly grumbled against God (no water, plague of snakes, no meat, no bread!), as they looked back they recognised a lost intimacy with the God who journeyed with them, fed them, protected them. It also became a Feast of the Law as life-giving, a Law given them through Moses that bound them together as a people teaching them how to live together in care for each other and especially the ‘widow, the orphan, the stranger among you’! We still need to learn that lesson in our desperately unequal world! The Synoptic Gospels give Jesus celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles a central place in his three years of ministry – the Transfiguration on mountain – a moment of Divine intimacy and glory pointing to Jesus as the source of the New Law of Love that fulfils and transcends that of Moses and Elijah, and gives the experience of ‘seeing’ that strengthens both Jesus and the Apostles for the coming trauma of the Passion and Crucifixion.

[2] At this Feast of Tabernacles in Jerusalem, there is recorded a great conflict between Jesus and the religious authorities. It centres on who Jesus is claiming to be, his identity and therefore his saving role! This echoes Jesus great question in the synoptic Gospels – ‘Who do the crowds say I am – who do you say I am’ – and Peter’s confession of faith – ‘You are the Christ’. There is dispute over his origin – no prophets come from Galilee, from Nazareth; they think they know – but they do not recognise his true origin (not so much Bethlehem – which does qualify him to be the Messiah, according to the prophet Micah): his real origin is eternally with the Father who sent him, whose words he speaks and whose ‘works’ and will he does. He is therefore greater than Abraham, the Father of the People! Greater than Moses, the Liberator of the People! Who is this man? His identification with the Father expressed most powerfully with his words ‘Before Abraham ever was, I am!’ (John 8: 58)  leads to the accusation of blasphemy (John 8: 52-59)  (punishable by stoning to death). Johannine ‘High Christology’ – He is the sign or sacrament of God who has come into the world. But He is a ‘sign of contradiction’ a sign that divides as well as unites, that causes conflict as well as brings peace. Love challenges hate, Life challenges death, Truth challenges Falsehood, Light challenges darkness! This echoes the experience of the early Jewish Christians (who predominate the Johannine Christian communities) of being excluded (‘excommunicated’) from the synagogues from about the year 70. Part of the reason was that these Messianic Christian Jews broke the Law – they ate with Gentiles (the Eucharist and the Agape meals). Jesus is not afraid to enter into the conflict because what is at stake is too important – too vital for the world! That conflict leads to the apparent defeat of the Cross but which in reality (for those with ‘eyes to see and ears to hear’)  is the moment of Glory, the glorious Victory of the Resurrection when Life swallows up death, and Light shatters darkness.

[3] The Fifth Sign – the healing of the man born blind (John 9: 1-40) The controversy in  John 7 & 8 which seems in the form of a trial involving the Sanhedrin (see John 7: 45-52 – the reappearance of Nicodemus), but His ‘time’ or ‘hour’ had not yet come (a victorious sovereign Jesus still described as controlling the situation). The healing of the man born blind is again closely associated with Baptism (wash in the pool of Siloam, John 9: 7) and the ‘enlightenment’ that flows from being re-born, recreated in Baptism into Christ who is the Light of the World. We not only ‘see’ but we can witness to the Light, we can become ‘Light to the World’. The use of earth and spittle to make a mud paste clearly evokes the story of the creation of Adam in Genesis 2: 7. Jesus, the New Adam (as Paul describes Him), recreates us in His image – no longer of the old Adam but now the New Adam, no longer ‘from below, but from above’ no longer of the flesh but now of the Spirit. Unlike the earlier healing by a pool, this is a story of conversion to discipleship and witness – the man born blind gradually comes to ‘see’ who Jesus really is, comes to faith and then witnesses before others, enters into the conflict. No longer only Jesus in conflict, the conflict of Truth with falsehood, Faith with wilful unbelief, Light with darkness, seeing with wilful blindness – but now the disciples of Jesus are called to the same conflict, the same courage. This seems to echo again the experience of persecution among the Johannine community and how they are called by Baptism to the courage of Witness and even martyrdom! (the ‘martyr’ comes from the Greek for ‘witness’). So the man born blind is on a journey from physical blindness to sight, from healing to spiritual rebirth, from silence to testimony, to the ultimate act of faith – “Lord, I believe’ (John 9: 38). 

AFTERWORD This man’s journey is ours also. Do we recognise and surrender our own inner blindnesses to Jesus and the Gospel? Are we willing to be healed, to be recreated? Are we ready for the conflict that love wages with hate? Are we a people of Vision – the Vision of a recreated humanity, recreated world? It is ‘safer’ to remain in the darkness – but to walk in the Light brings responsibility, challenge and the great Mission to transform the world. Discipleship of this troublesome Messiah is not comfortable – but it is compelling and life-giving — and not just or even primarily for ourselves! We are called to the the sign and sacrament of God’s self-forgetting and infinitely self-giving Love which is the energy for building a New and Renewed World.

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